Experts and advocates have long championed for a stronger presence of creativity in the classroom. And today is no different. In the most-viewed TED Talk of all time, teacher, author, and researcher Sir Ken Robinson asked the hard-hitting question, “Do schools kill creativity?” At that time, he challenged schools to promote and inspire creativity, and his humorous yet poignant TED Talk really struck a nerve with people.
My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
Today, he still hopes for an education revolution that gives students the skills, hope, and confidence they need to have a life they deserve in a community they feel proud of. Creativity is an important part of helping engender all of these things in students, and fortunately for educators and parents, kids usually start out being creatively inclined!
More than 10 years ago, psychologist Robert J. Sternberg wrote about creativity and standardized testing. He talked about creativity as a habit that educators and parents can either encourage or discourage in students. Offering the following three aspects are key to nurturing creativity in the classroom and promoting it as a habit:
- Opportunities to engage in creativity
- Encouragement to participate in these opportunities
- Rewards when people respond to such encouragement, and think and behave creatively
If any of these three aspects are taken away, then so is the likelihood of creativity being able to flourish. While standardized testing and curriculum are here to stay, that doesn’t mean they need to overtake every corner and crevice of your classroom. Research actually shows that students who do better on standardized tests tend to be more creative than their peers who do poorly. That’s because building in creativity time for students can help them strengthen other skills, exercise a different part of their brain, and learn more quickly and effectively.
Creative classrooms give students an environment in which they’re more likely to express their ideas, think outside the box to find innovative solutions, and discover passions they didn’t know they had. Creative individuals look for new perspectives, take risks others don’t, stand up for their beliefs despite what the crowd may do, and believe in their own ability to be creative. They are willing to work hard to overcome obstacles, achieve new solutions, and build creative innovations.
The technologies, social customs, and tools available to us in our lives are replaced almost as quickly as they are introduced. We need to think creatively to thrive, and, at times, even to survive.
How to Promote and Nurture Creativity in the Classroom
Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes, especially in the classroom. While most often associated with the arts, creativity doesn’t always have to be tied directly or solely to the arts. As Nicholas Provenzano, makerspace director at University Liggett School, says, “Some students are super creative when it comes to solving problems or creating games during recess. Some are amazing storytellers.” Some are great leaders, organizers, and motivators, and being great at those things requires some form of creativity.
In this sister article to Incorporating Imagination into Learning, we’ve curated a list of some of our favorite ways to promote and nurture creativity in the classroom and help turn it into a positive habit for students:
- A classroom designed for creativity considers the layout, color, walls, light, and digital spaces of the classroom. The classroom is at the center of student learning, so it’s important that it’s a space designed to promote creative thinking. Designating areas for independent work vs. group work is a good place to start, and green and blue elements are said to help promote creativity. (This infographic has more details.) You can even go right to the source and ask your students what they’d like to see in the classroom—promoting creativity within your students as you promote creativity in the classroom!
- Open-ended projects let students choose the type of project they want to create. Not only do open-ended projects help students explore their passions, but they can also promote higher engagement and a stronger understanding of the material because students get to present what they’ve learned in a way that’s meaningful to them.
- Recognize all types of achievements, not only academic ones. As we mentioned earlier, rewarding creativity is a vital part of turning it into a habit. And rewarding achievement visually in your classroom gives students both a sense of pride and an incentive to continue doing great work. Additionally, recognizing more than just test scores and letter grades is essential to nurturing creativity in all types of realms. For instance, you should also recognize Suzie for her great pitch at recess, Allen for his exceptional songwriting, and Muhammad for finding a unique solution to that week’s math problem.
- Open-exploration hour gives students the chance to explore something they’re passionate about during school hours. Devoting one hour a day or week over a set time period to this practice allows students to attempt things they might not try outside of school because of time constraints. Furthermore, encouraging students to work on something they care about in school can help promote deeper connections between their passions and their learning.
- Utilize less traditional learning materials, such as TED Talks and podcasts, to drive a lesson home. Not all students learn the same way, so the greater variety of materials you can provide them, the more chances you have at reaching them on a deeper level. And these creative ways of delivering information can inspire them to get creative, too.
- Open discussions help students think more critically, and challenge them to listen to other students’ opinions and build off one another’s ideas. It’s also important to be vulnerable yourself, as learning and creativity are inherently vulnerable, and seeing others open up can help students do the same, and not be afraid to be creative.
- Student-set learning goals are incredible motivators for students to both think creatively and take ownership over their learning. Giving students a clear vision for where they want their learning to take them can help them become more inclined to find creative solutions to get them there. And reflection upon the goals they set can help them focus on their progress and behavior, and what helped or didn’t help them achieve their goals.
- Performance-based activities that involve role-play or character study can help students develop a deeper understanding of material. And, of course, these activities promote creativity in many avenues, from storytelling and writing to costume design and acting.
- Hands-on learning helps students put theories and lessons to the test with their own hands. Whenever they can do something to learn, let them. For example, encourage web design students to create a site for something they’re passionate about rather than lecturing them about the basics. Or have students build paper planes to learn about velocity. Or give them an instrument to play and let the instrument do the rest. (Playing music engages the brain in a unique way that virtually no other activity does!)
- Team-building exercises give students productive time together to make decisions that are based on communication, collaboration, and creative thinking. They have the opportunity to build strong relationships and work together strategically and creatively to find a solution. And one of the best things about team building exercises is that there aren’t right or wrong answers—just strategies.
- Finally, it’s no secret that offering elective and CTE courses also helps students discover their passions and think creatively, and has great benefits beyond the classroom.
When asking for solutions and ideas openly, don’t tell students they’re wrong or downplay their contribution as being trivial or silly. Being told that something is wrong when it isn’t can stifle a student’s willingness to think outside the box again or offer input in the future. And if there is only one right answer to a question, don’t make a student feel bad for not getting it right. Instead, explain to them exactly what makes the right answer right. Teach them that it’s okay to make mistakes and be vulnerable—it’s all part of the learning and creative process.
Making time for creativity in the classroom is also essential. As kindergarten teacher Sarah Diaz says, “No one can be creative in five minutes. It’s just not appropriate for everyone, especially young children. So you have to allow time for that creativity to happen.” That being said, one of the biggest myths about creativity is that it always necessitates a major shift in practice. More realistically, it’s about “an ongoing willingness to find the places to make small or interesting changes,” and watching them add up over time. A creative classroom isn’t built overnight, but there are plenty of ways to get started.
Circling back to Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk from more than a decade ago, he says that our task is to educate a student’s “whole being” in order to prepare them for the future, because “we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”
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